Hailed by some as the cultural event of 2004, more than 200 works from New York's Museum of Modern Art will go on display in Berlin this week. Exhibit organizers are not the only ones hoping for lots of visitors.
When the people in charge of MoMA in Berlin's advertising campaign asked Berliners what the acronym stood for, only 2 percent knew the right answer. To educate the rest, the city's been plastered with neon pink posters, announcing the arrival of a "best of" selection of works of art from the New York museum.
Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie with MoMA poster
The seven-month exhibition at Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) will open on Friday. It became possible because MoMA itself is getting renovated and expanded for $850 million (€662 million) and Berlin offered a few million euros to art-sit for a while.
MoMA officials also liked the idea, since the museum's roots can be traced to the German capital: When visiting Berlin in the 1920s, MoMA's founding director, Alfred H. Barr, was inspired by the Nationalgalerie's department for recent contemporary art.
Barnett Newman's "Broken Obelisk"
Now, paintings such as Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night," Henri Matisse's "The Dance" and Paul Cézanne's "The Bather" will be on display in Berlin, along with Meret Oppenheimer's fur cup, "Breakfast in Fur" and Barnett Newman's "Broken Obelisk" (photo).
Some unfulfilled wishes
The Germans were able to comprise a wish list but MoMA's chief curator, John Elderfield, made the final selection. "We could not and didn't want to fulfill all requests," Elderfield told reporters, adding that while some had to be turned down for security reasons, others would not have fit the exhibition's concept.
Christo's "Wrapped Reichstag"
Still, those working at the Nationalgalerie seem pleased with the result and proud that Berlin has been chosen as the exhibition's only international stop. "This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition and the cultural event of 2004," said Peter-Klaus Schuster, who heads both the Nationalgalerie and the state museums of Berlin.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have agreed to serve as patrons for the exhibition. The German government vouches for the art works' safety, since insurance for the collection, which is estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars, would have been too expensive.
The overall cost of €8.5 million that includes lending fees, security and transportation, has been shouldered by the museum's support group, Friends of the Nationalgalerie. To recoup the money, the organization hopes 100,000 visitors per month will each pay between €5 and €27 to see the show.
Berlin tourism industry has high hopes
Not only those at the museum have high hopes for the event: Many of the city's other cultural institutions are participating in a supporting program called "american season 2004."
Some members of the city's ailing tourism industry have already compared the exhibition to the 1995 "Wrapped Reichstag" by Christo (photo). Millions of visitors came to see Germany's parliament building completely covered with silver fabric. Although special MoMA packages that include accommodation and entrance fees have been slow sellers so far, Berlin's tourism officials expect things to pick up around Easter.
But others believe the show's long duration might be counterproductive in terms of drawing the masses to Berlin. "An event becomes attractive if it's short and unique," Wulf Herzogenrath, the director of Bremen's Kunsthalle museum, told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel.